Ship Steering Wheel History
The invention of the ship steering wheel was a huge leap forward in nautical technology, as the antiquated whip staff was a markedly inefficient way for navigating a ship. Unfortunately, the ship's wheel as we know it today was not invented until ships had been navigating the world's waters for many centuries.
The first ship steering wheel is widely believed to have been implemented at the beginning of the 18th century, around 1703.Historians base this date on seeing a number of ships around this time start to make use of the ship steering wheel.However, this date is often refuted because there is simply not enough evidence short of a singular model ship which shows a fully developed wheel.The ship steering wheel may have been invented long before 1703, but the first real implementations of it are simply seen around this date. For this reason it is difficult to say for sure without proper documentation of the event.
The Earliest Ship's Wheels
When the earliest version of the ship steering wheel began to grace the boats of the day, they were placed behind the mizzen mast and above the tiller's head.However, because the ship steering wheel was positioned this way, the sailor steering the ship had an obstructed view of what lay in front of the ship.In order to balance the helmsmen, the ship steering wheel was generally placed in front of a large wooden barrel.Because larger ships were especially difficult to control, it often required the strength of two sailors in order to keep the ship heading in the correct direction.However, the space where the typical ship's wheel was located was often very cramped, causing a lot of difficulty when two men were trying to work in tandem to get the ship on course.By 1740, some ships began to be manufactured with 2 separate wheels to allow for more helmsmen to effectively steer at the same time.
As ships took to the sea for long periods, the tiller ropes often started to stretch or loosen, causing one to be tighter than the other.This would often cause the ship's center to change in relation to the steering wheel, making it far more difficult to control the ship effectively.This caused the rope to either become too tight or too slack.It was not until many years later a ship engineer named Pollard invented a new system to address this growing problem.Pollard's novel method of keeping the ship centered made use of "sweeps and rowles", an apparatus that kept the tiller ropes taught in adverse conditions.This new system developed by Mr. Pollard became the defacto standard on brand new ships after a few short years.
To this day it is not entirely clear how the ship wheel evolved during the 18th century.No matter what the real story is, the ship steering wheel is still a nautical culture icon and an important part of seafaring history.Not only does this significant artifact maintain its place in history, it also serves many modern day collectors as a necessary part of any nautical gifts collection.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
George is an avid collector and connoisseur of all things nautical- nautical decor, wooden model boats, and historical artifacts. He has written articles for several large manufacturers and retailers of model ships, and he is a master ship builder himself. He brings a unique perspective from both the retail and the consumer side of the nautical decor and model boat building markets. He has a special passion for radio controlled boats and can regularly be found at the local lake racing his boats with his friends and family.